‘Peter Rabbit’ Director Will Gluck on Last-Minute Changes and the Film’s Unexpected Music
From co-writer/director Will Gluck, Peter Rabbit tells the story of the mischievous and adventurous rabbit hero in the blue jacket that was made famous in the books by Beatrix Potter. Peter (voiced by James Corden) is playful and charming, and so driven to get his hands on the vegetables in the McGregor garden that it not only puts his family – which includes triplets Flopsy (voiced by Margot Robbie), Mopsy (voiced by Elizabeth Debicki) and Cotton-tail (voiced by Daisy Ridley), as well as cousin Benjamin (voiced by Matt Lucas) – at risk, but jeopardizes the budding relationship between new neighbor Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) and sweet animal lover Bea (Rose Byrne), who watches out for the rabbits.
At the film’s press junket, Collider sat down with filmmaker Will Gluck for this 1-on-1 interview, in which he talked about being nervous about bringing Peter Rabbit to the big screen, what kind of hero Peter Rabbit is to him, the biggest challenges in pulling off an animated/live-action hybrid film, last-minute changes to the animation, what made James Corden his Peter Rabbit, the film’s unexpected music, and whether he’d like to stay involved if there are more Peter Rabbit films. He also talked about what he’s deciding between, as his next film, and juggling film and TV projects.
Collider: I have to ask, how did you end with a Fort Minor song (“Remember the Name”) in Peter Rabbit?
WILL GLUCK: Nice! So, I love that song. The lead singer, Mike Shinoda, is a dad at my daughter’s school, so I called him and said, “This is a crazy idea. I rewrote these lyrics. Do you mind doing it?” He thought it was a funny idea, and he made [the lyrics] better and did it. It’s one of those crazy things, where that’s how I happened. I always like doing crazy stuff with music, like that. There’s a lot of music in this movie that’s unexpected. It was crazy, and the rewritten lyrics were funny.
Did Mike Shinoda think it was a crazy idea, when you asked him about it?
GLUCK: I think so. You’d have to ask him, but probably. I explained that the sparrows would be singing different genres, throughout the movie. What about “Steal my Sunshine” by Len? We actually got Len to sing that. He re-recorded his own song with different lyrics. And then, the last one is the one that Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend wrote.
As someone who had their dad read these books to him, and then as someone who read these books to your own kids, were you nervous about bringing Peter Rabbit to the big screen?
GLUCK: Yeah, of course! The only experience I can tap into is my own. I can’t predict what everyone else is gonna say. I just wanted to make a movie that’s a new adventure for Peter. I was just trying to stay close to what I liked about the Beatrix Potter books, and we had the Beatrix Potter estate very involved as stewards. I had many safety nets, at all moments. Every time something happen, we were like, “Would that have been alright?” Beatrix Potter books were quite cheeky, at the time, and quite dark. They put his dad in a pie and ate the pie! They’re dark books, and that’s what made them appealing to me, as a kid. It’s the first time I remember getting a book read to me where they were treating them like people and not like little babies, so that’s what we tried to do. In my head, Peter is about 15 or 16, and the girls are tweens. If you see the movie again, there’s a lot of stuff happening in the background. Peter will be saying something to Benjamin and the three girls are doing something in the background, just like they would in real life. They’re not gonna just stand there and wait for their brother. There’s a lot of stuff happening, all over the screen. If you stop and freeze it, there’s a lot of fun stuff happening. Always appropriate, but fun.
What kind of hero was Peter Rabbit to you, and how do you hope a new generation of kids seeing him for the first time will feel about him?
GLUCK: What stuck with me about Peter is that he was told by his mom, “Don’t go into the garden ‘cause your dad went in there and he was eaten.” So, what does he do? He goes into the garden. There’s no bigger touching the stove moment than that. I loved that he was a mischief maker, and he got in trouble for it, but he tried it. One of my favorite movies is Ferris Bueller, so Peter has elements of Ferris Bueller, in that he does stuff, he’s often wrong, he’s never in doubt, he’s charming, he makes big mistakes, and he has to eat a lot of crow. The bigger thing for me, because I have two girls and it manifests itself in the triplets, is that you think that, if you’re the oldest and a new sister or brother arrives, your world is completely changed, more than any of us can understand. You have to learn that your parents don’t love you any less, but it takes a lot of years to figure that out.
It must be incredibly challenging to put together a film like this.
GLUCK: It’s quite challenging.
What are the biggest challenges of actually pulling off an animated/live-action hybrid film?
GLUCK: Well, we finished the movie on Sunday night (January 28th) at 9:45. I’m not kidding! It was challenging because I make a lot of changes, constantly. The animation is so good that, after five minutes, you forget that the animals are CG. In the middle of the night, I’d call Australia, or I’d go down there, and go, “I know you just did this, but hear me out. What if . . .” These guys and women love the challenge, but at the end of the day, our calendar was working against us. When you’re doing live-action, once you finish the movie, you only have a certain amount of ingredients to choose from. With this movie, it was endless. You can do as many things as possible, and what that makes you do is keep changing it, but at some point, these poor animators have had enough. The challenge, for me, was understanding that there were certain things that I just had to live with, not that they were bad.
Would you keep trying to work on the film until the release date, if that was possible?
GLUCK: I made a big animation change, on the Thursday before we finished on Sunday night. We were done with the movie, and we had to open it up again because I made a big change in the first reel. I called and woke them up at five in the morning, but they were up for it.
What made you feel like you had to make that change?
GLUCK: That’s probably a therapy issue. I think it was a very good change. There were things that nagged at me, throughout the process. Little by little, I would change them, and this was the last thing that nagged at me. But in order to cut it, you have to create a whole new sequence, so it was all hands on deck for 16 hours to get that done.
Do you have many deleted scenes?
GLUCK: Not deleted scenes, but a lot of animation that we’ve changed. Not finished animation. They’ve gotten so good that they can do some temp animation, and a lot of that is on the ground. There are minutes of that, or maybe even an hour.
Were there any major storyline changes, especially in the script stage?
GLUCK: I must have written it a hundred times, yeah. Rob Lieber, who’s a great writer, did the first couple of drafts, and then I worked with him and I rewrote it millions of times. And then, on set, we changed it millions of times. In animation, there weren’t major storylines added, but new storylines were created. I didn’t quite know what to do with the sisters. All that stuff with Tommy Brock, the badger, had to get figured out. All that stuff with the pig had to get figured out. I knew that I wanted to do something with the pig, but I didn’t know what his character was until I started working with the actor, Ewen Leslie, and said, “Make him like this,” and it clicked. We must have redone the pig seven times.
What made James Corden your Peter Rabbit?
GLUCK: It was always James, in my head. I had met him a long time ago and, very early on in the process, I knew I needed a guy who’s able to say things that are crazy inappropriate and wrong-headed, but sweet, and you cared about him because you knew it was coming from the right place, and he had to be British. There’s not many like that. He’s so funny. We’re very lucky to have James doing this.
Was it difficult to cast the human characters?
GLUCK: I wanted Rose [Byrne] from the very beginning. I’ve worked with her before and we’re friends. And we wanted Domhnall [Gleeson]. Everyone in my office kept saying, “You’ve gotta get Domhnall! Get Domhnall!” I don’t think it’s been done very often, [taking a character from] antagonist to love interest that you care about. It’s tough and I don’t know how you do it, but he pulled it off, and with not that much time to do it. He’s so talented. I would like to make a movie with just Rose and Domhnall, just on their relationship.
If there are more Peter Rabbit movies, do you want to continue to be involved?
GLUCK: My company will definitely produce them because we’ve learned how to do them now and we like it. Now that I’ve learned so much, I wouldn’t mind directing another one. I don’t know if I’d do the next one. I think I need a break, and I think the animators probably need a break from me. They’re fun because everyone is so game. Every actor was so game. The animators were so game. We were all working together towards something, and that made everything fun. Everyone is doing it for the same reason, and that’s either that we have kids or we grew up with Peter Rabbit. It’s fun to go into a situation out of love.
What are you looking to do next, film wise?
GLUCK: I’m choosing between two movies, and they’ve both got humans and humans alone in them. There are a lot of visual effects in Peter Rabbit that aren’t animation, that Animal Logic did, that really opens it up. Almost every shot, even if it’s a live-action shot, has a visual effect in it, and I learned a lot that way, which I think I’ll utilize in my next movies. I’m choosing between two of them, but they’re both humans talking to humans. One of them is humans killing humans.
What are the movies?
GLUCK: One is called Jackpot, and the other one is called Steal Away, which is a romantic comedy/drama heist for two 25-year-olds in New York City. I liked those movies when I was a kid, but they don’t make them anymore. It’s funny and it’s young. I like that type of banter movie. I like to make movies where people talk the way we all wish we talked, but not that heightened, so that’s what it’s gonna be.
Do you have casts set for both films, or do you have to wait until you decide which one you’re actually going to do?
GLUCK: The answer is yes to both, so I have to figure out which one is gonna be first. As of today, at this time, I don’t know which one that’s gonna be. I’ve been kinda busy [with Peter Rabbit].
You also have some TV projects in the works, right?
GLUCK: Yeah, our company is making three shows right now, and it’s fun to get back into that. We’re doing a series for Amazon.
Is it difficult to juggle all of that?
GLUCK: Only when people ask me about it. When I’m doing it, I don’t think about it. When people ask me about it, I get anxiety. I like doing different things. That keeps me interested. That’s really helpful.
Peter Rabbit opens in theaters on February 9th.